Protectionism, post-truth politics, and prejudice

6 Feb 2017

‘A new chapter in the story of globalisation’ - that is what we were told was going to dominate the geopolitical sphere when the Fall of the Berlin wall occurred alongside the birth of the Euro, and China’s admission into the World Trade Organisation.


Trade liberalisation was evident in the 1990s, where the decade was dominated by faster growth, the narrowing of the gap between rich and poor states, and prompt communication as well as cheaper goods. Yet, the tide has shifted and the 2000s have uncovered a bleaker side – growing financial instability, mounting relative inequality, the growth of corporate welfare, and the rise of the ‘surveillance state’.


Whilst BRIC countries have benefited from an era of globalisation, the most economically developed have taken a comparative toll. The drift from multilateralism to bilateralism through agreements such as TTIP shine the light on a failing interconnected framework.


The suggestion that the USA will impose tariffs on imports from Mexico showcase the rise of protectionist measures, which create an atmosphere inherently more suspicious of the existence of an ‘international community’.


Firms view tariffs as a knock to business confidence, as was evident when Honda stated that they may need to “rethink their operations”, given that they made approximately 250,000 vehicles in Mexico last year, more than half of which were exported to the USA.


Walls between the US and other nation states metaphorically rose in the period of US isolationism in the early 20th century, but they now going to become a tangible reality.


The evidence is clearly not in favour of Trump’s ambition. A ‘world full of walls’ simply does not work. In 1961, migration from East to West Berlin had increased so significantly that East Germany built a fortified barrier zone, much like that which Trump dreams about, with the intention of preventing the flow of migrants. Yet, it was soon clear that it was simply unsustainable to have a fortified front. It was bound to collapse due to domestic and international pressure.


Donald Trump has lamented that ‘Free trade is a zero sum game’. Whilst we know that free trade generates competition, specialisation, and increases world output overall, the growth of mercantilism has become more important than the 'fairness' of trade deals.


Heather Stewart, put it exceptionally well – ‘what began as an expression of internationalism descended into a series of cross cutting mercantilist spats’. Public resentment towards TTIP was heightened due to the fear that the interests of multinationals were being put before those of citizens. If we want to uphold an era of genuine free trade, trade should not become entangled with problems of mercantilism, power, and inequality.


The political implications of the collapse of globalisation has been the rise of ‘post-truth politics’. It seems as though right-wing populists have threatened the existence of reasoned logical arguments for media sound bites and irrational slurs. This was evident during the EU referendum in the UK, during which Vote Leave promised that £350 million would be injected into the NHS if the population voted for Brexit. Politicians turned a blind eye to this post-referendum.


Across the Atlantic, Kellyanne Conway, the current serving Counselor to President Donald Trump, insisted that two Iraqi refugees "were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre", yet no such massacre occurred. The misinformation and fabrication of the truth has shown how rational debate has taken its toll in the political sphere, whilst kakistocracy is evidently on the rise.


We often forget that globalisation has a sociological dimension to it. The Austrian government's proposal to ensure that all migrants sign an ‘integration contract’, which echoes the ‘integration oath’ which the Casey report shined a light on, marks the decline of a tolerant, globalised, unified structure of the world. Austria fails to acknowledge that a society can peacefully coexist regardless of whether or not all individuals accept ‘enlightenment values’. Whilst the Austrian government declare that they believe in an ‘open society’ based on ‘open communication', I fail to comprehend how forcing migrants to assimilate to ‘enlightenment values’ is part of having an ‘open society’.


It would be naïve to ignore the causes of a decline in globalisation, one of which is simply the overselling of a ‘globalised world’ which overvalued the prosperity it was widely assumed to bring.


Osbornomics in the UK produced unprecedented optimism of a historic business investment boom, overestimating the longevity of financial prosperity. Instead, hopes and dreams of an affluent economy were crushed when austerity meant that relative inequality heightened.


The rise of privatisation in the hope of ‘balancing the books’ was merely a futile excuse to deregulate the public sector. Instead, it is vital to note that the decisive factor influencing state of affairs in the private sector should be the consideration of long-term deliberation, as opposed to short term financial urgencies.


So how do we secure a revival from the dip in the faith of globalisation? Now, more than ever, given that environmental politics and terrorism have an intrinsically global character, we should strive to uphold a transnational, outgoing view of human civilisation which values universal cooperation, as opposed to undermining it.




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